Letter to the Editor: October 30, 2013


“When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”                                                                                          
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Mr. Reginald E. Walton turned 65 years of age – October 9, 2013
My brother, sometimes father figure, and eternal friend turning 65? Say it ain’t so.. ‘cause it ain’t so…’cause Reggie – the man and character – is ageless.  
And, those of you in Maple Lake who know – really know Reggie – know what I’m talking about:  the man and his character are a fixture in time on this Earth.  
My first encounter with Reggie – the cottage counselor – was in Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, the summer of 1970 when I was 15 years old and a sophomore in High School. I had already been in Boys Town four years and my first impression of Reggie was that he was big dude with a constant smile on his face; one of us you could say.  The memory of our first meeting – his rising from a chair, shaking my hand, telling me his name and asking mine – remain clear and vivid.  
Reggie was one of us, having come to Boys Town himself from the projects of St. Louis in February 1960. While a young man at Boys Town, Reggie distinguished himself in athletics  – swimming, track and football  – sang in the world renown Father Flanagan’s Boys Town Concert Choir, was a cottage commissioner and Boys Town councilman, and earnestly studied the craft of tailoring. He graduated from Boys Town in 1967, before returning as a cottage counselor a couple years later.
I, unlike Reggie, was absolutely no shining example of the model student and boy.  Many, mostly adults there, found me too independent, undisciplined and what they termed ‘incorrigible.” Reggie saw and treated me in another light—undoubtedly, with a vision of what I potentially could be—which ignited a friendship made up of mutual concern, trust and respect that flames brightly to this day. 
And, I’m not alone! There are probably hundreds of former Boys Town students who share the same memories and feelings about Reggie that I do; maybe more so. He treated each and every young man with the same dignity and respect. He cared deeply about all of us, and was always the champion of the underdog boy, absolutely detested bullying of any kind from both students and adults alike.  More, than anything else though, was the never-ending unselfishness of his time and energy in helping or counseling any boy who came to him for sound and “down-to-earth” advice.  
In the mid-70s, Reggie ended his career at Boys Town, and started another as the head-tailor for Daytons in Minneapolis. During this time he married, was blessed with two beautiful daughters and became very active in volunteering with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter where every summer for 26 years he volunteered at the MS camp and rode – on his beloved motorcycle – in the MS River Road Run Motorcycle Tour.  In 2007, Reggie received a Lifetime Achievement Award from MS for his years of exuding warmth, kindness, graciousness and respect to those with disabilities.  
Over the last decade, Reggie has endured major setbacks with his health, including heart issues and a kidney transplant a few years ago. His physical maladies require continual care, which prevent him from being able to work. But, in no way do they stop him from living life to its fullest and continuing to reach out to others. (He wouldn’t miss a Boys Town annual reunion for anything!) Financially, he lives meagerly but “gets by” as he puts it. (I do, however, find it one of life’s ironies that Reggie had to sell and is without his beloved motorcycle that he so often utilized to support the cause of others) 
The two of us stay in touch, and though life has been challenging for Reggie, he holds to his faith and cannot resist a good laugh or two with those who know and love him. When I think of Reggie, the man, counselor, friend and character I am easily reminded of the poet Goethe quote: “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”  
If you know Reggie and have an opportunity to send him a birthday note or even to make a quick stop by the house just to say hello, I’m certain he’d be grateful as he is for the experience of sharing life with all those with whom he has encountered thus far these past 65 years.    
William “Willie” Shannon
Missoula, Mont.